What is the dumbest piece of writing advice you have ever heard?

Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Masked Mole, Apr 3, 2017.

  1. Apollypopping

    Apollypopping Member

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    My WIPs were sequels. I started writing my own originals with the intention to pick the fan fiction back up but I never did.

    Plus, I suck so hard at sequels.
     
  2. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    Much appreciated! :cheerleader:
     
  3. Pinkymcfiddle

    Pinkymcfiddle Banned

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    Indeed, I wanted to do English Literature at University, but was told I needed to do something vocational if I wanted to get a job.

    Fast forward several years and I do a job that pays well, but bores me beyond forbearance, and the idiocy of that advice recurs repeatedly- I mean English Literature is a highly respected degree- it's not as if I was intending to do Klingon Studies.
     
  4. MachineGryphon

    MachineGryphon Member

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    I've considered adding the explanation that my protagonist travelled back and forth between the UK and US as a kid, but that might be a little lazy. Some of my actual speech is a bastardisation of the two, so I guess I write how I speak. I just can't seem to type the word "lift" when "elevator" sounds like a more grown-up word. A lot of English words such as "flat" are very well...flat and uninteresting. Basically I type what I like from both dialects, which has earned me disapproval from both sides. It may be something I have to address, though it is frustrating when that's all people can pick out.

    I've also struggled with people telling me I'm wasting my time. It's why I have never and will never show my work to my dad. The fact I dropped out of school at 14 with no qualifications does tend to make people assume my education level stopped there and I have nothing to offer.

    As for Klingon...Qapla' :-D
     
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  5. Apollypopping

    Apollypopping Member

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    My mother wanted me to be an accountant.

    I still use my fingers for basic addition so it never happened.
     
  6. EstherMayRose

    EstherMayRose Senior Member

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    I'm still at school, so sh*t advice from English teachers who just wanted us to get good grades is still fresh in my mind.

    "Put lots of description, or the readers will get bored!" (A friend asked me to read over her practice GCSE story. "Too much description," I said. "They need to know what she looks like," was the reply. It made me stop in my tracks and think: "Why?")

    "The word "said" is the devil. Every line of dialogue must have an alternative word plus an adverb."

    And from people reviewing my books, my favourite:
    "That sounds really boring. You should make it about [describes plot that is absolutely nothing like my book]."
     
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  7. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Bing Bang Boom

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    Oof. That gets my vote for all time dumbest.
     
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  8. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    That actually sounds more like a brilliant attempt at bad advice than a horrible attempt at good advice.

    No idiot would ever come up with that idea on their own: only someone who already knew the rule ("avoid synonym-adverb whenever possible") would even think of the opposite to begin with.
     
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  9. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Bing Bang Boom

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    Haha, right? Only a genius could fake such stupidity.
     
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  10. Skye Walker

    Skye Walker Active Member

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    "Your hair looks fabulous today," Louise-Anne cooed obnoxiously.

    "Why thank you, dear," Mary trilled brightly, her glossy, pastel-blue heels clicking on the hard tile floor.
     
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  11. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    There's another way to look at this. Write the story you want to tell shouldn't be conflated with, it doesn't matter how you write it. It does matter.

    "Write for you, not for the reader" is essentially the same as "Everything's OK, it's up to the writer." It's just as bad to say, "[X] rule is an absolute." All or none, how about neither? Writing is a skill and as a skill there are ways to articulate the elements of it.
     
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  12. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I took "show don't tell" as a direction to look at what it meant and how could I use it to improve my skills. If you don't take it as a rule, but instead look at it like a skill you should master, then it can be very useful advice.
     
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  13. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Some teachers shouldn't be teachers.

    Some people shouldn't attempt critique. :p
     
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  14. EstherMayRose

    EstherMayRose Senior Member

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    The selfsame teacher also showed that she had completely missed the point of my story by saying first that my ending should be more "uplifting" and then that my main character should be more likeable. The prompt I had picked was "My mother always told me that pride comes before a fall." *Eye roll*

    So yeah, I doubt her too.

    (She was also dumb enough to talk about a penetrating tone of voice and leave the sentence "It penetrates my..." open in a room full of teenagers. I mentally finished it with "consciousness". Someone verbally finished it with...something else.)
     
  15. big soft moose

    big soft moose All killer, no filler. Contributor Community Volunteer

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    The only word of caution here is that while its shit advice in terms of actual writing, the teachers do know how to pass the GCSE, and most of the people marking the exams won't be writers either

    my advice would be do it their way on the exam, then immediately forget about it once you've passed
     
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  16. EstherMayRose

    EstherMayRose Senior Member

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    I was short of time. I wrote the first thing that came into my head and got full marks.

    But yes, it is good advice for non-writers wanting to pass a GCSE.
     
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  17. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    It pains me to tell you that I read a book that sounded exactly like this, some 12 years ago... in fact, there was an entire series by this author, consisting of 28 books. They each read this way. Cooing characters and glossy hair and clicking heels. I read all 28 because I was but a child and I wanted to know what happened next. Nothing ever did happen. Just lots more glossy hair and 1800's lace and coquettish smiles and tragic weeping.
     
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  18. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    The dumbest advice I've ever received:

    When I told my father (at age 16, in my final year of high school) that I wanted to go to university, study professional writing and become an author, his response was, "Why bother going to uni and wasting time on all that? Any decent girl would finish high school, get a job for a few years, then find a nice guy and settle down and start a family. By that time, you won't be able to use your degree and all that money's wasted, and by the time the kids are grown up and moved out, your degree will be out of date, anyway."

    So, not specifically advice, and not specifically about writing, but in a roundabout way, one of the dumbest and yet most impactful things someone has said to me about my writing dreams.
     
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  19. ToBeInspired

    ToBeInspired Senior Member

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    I agree that you should write for yourself in a style that you look forward to cultivating. However, I also feel that authors have to be held to a certain amount of accountability for any released works. Marketability should be factored in along with items such as editing or design. Someone has spent time or money on the editorial process and cover art. You should consider how to break even, at the very least.

    I've heard way too many pieces of advice I've considered ill-conceived. It's hard to narrow it down, but I guess it would be "work on only one thing at a time."

    Most people can multi-task in the modern world. It can actually help to take a break from one project and work on another until you get momentum going again. I could understand if someone was dedicated 100% of their available time to a project, but that's not normally how life works out.
     
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2017
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  20. truthbeckons

    truthbeckons Active Member

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    I have thoughts on some of the nominated bits of advice here, and I'd like to play devil's advocate, because I think lots of these are the seeds of solid writing advice (and also because I just like playing devil's advocate).

    But I don't see much bad writing advice in this thread. Lots of these are basic guidelines that have been oversimplified, which might be misconceived or misapplied, or which aren't as useful to proficient writers, but I don't think the following examples are "dumb" at all.

    "Write what you know." This is really important, and it's worth explaining, at least to people who are still unsure of what they should write about.

    For one thing, every great story has something more abstract in it that is personally felt and intimately known by the author. You don't have to write a novel about a would-be novelist, that's taking it way too literally. But if you can transform a real experience in some way (not the details of something that happened so much as how it felt or what it meant to you), it often shows in the writing, which feels authentic.

    And two, you can improve what you know. If you don't know anything interesting to write about, learn and experience more, or your stuff will be tedious and irrelevant anyway. Research, and read widely. There are amateur writers who just start imagining what real things are like from a position of utter ignorance, which might make for some interesting exploratory writing, but the final product will be a hollow and cringey experience for anyone who's even slightly more familiar with the chosen topic, or even anyone with a more realistic imagination. (See E. L. James's bizarre and dangerous misconceptions about BDSM relationships, etc.)

    So maybe a better formulation of this advice is just "know what you're writing about." Basic, but solid.

    "Show, don't tell." There are experienced and prolific writers who don't seem to have really grasped what this means. It's not literally "write entirely in descriptive paragraphs" or whatever. It means that whatever it is you want to communicate within your story, you should use the art of your medium to convey it, rather than spoon-feeding information. Demonstrate a character's personality through their actions rather than describing them in adjectives. Convey a thematic message through the structure of the plot or parallel characters rather than have one character say it to another. Describe what's going on vividly and specifically rather than piling adverbs on basic verbs. Etc.

    It's condescendingly basic advice, but at the same time it's a principle that every writer should internalise and strive to apply to the best of their ability, so it annoys me a little when I hear people call it bad advice in itself. It's a fundamental literary concept that just needs more elaboration.

    "Great authors don't like their work." I think there are people who need to hear something like this, and people who don't.

    It's an encouraging message for people who hold themselves to extremely high standards. It's the exception to the rule when an artist who strives to create something truly great is deeply satisfied with it. When you work hard at something, you need to be thinking about how it could be better, and it's hard to stop doing so even when it's fair to say that the work's finished. Far as I can tell, it's only a minority of people who can truly reconcile their current achievements with the constant desire to improve. This might mean that they hate their past stuff or they just think it's flawed.

    Plus, statistically, if you think your work is absolutely brilliant and unimprovable, you're much more likely to be in the large category of people who could still make improvements, than in the small category of people who have achieved something practically flawless. (With self-awareness, you can figure out which category you're in without relying on sheer odds, but if you really know your stuff is great, good for you, you don't need this particular advice.)

    "Just write with no filter. Go nuts, pour it all on the page, etc." Again, only some people need to be told this.

    I'm a chronic perfectionist who has trouble getting started. I've had to learn to give myself formal permission to write a first draft in full knowledge that it'll be full of problems and I'll probably heavily revise it, and I still have to remind myself that that's part of the process whenever I start something.

    Some people d0n't edit themselves well, lack self-consciousness (or even self-awareness) and need to be reminded to rein it in more. So this isn't universal, but it is helpful advice for some people. Anyone giving advice should consider the individual they're giving it to.

    I think the important thing to remember when receiving any advice is to try to understand where it's coming from, and consider who it might help if it doesn't seem useful to you. It's just more constructive to think in those terms and sometimes it helps you learn something from someone who doesn't know how to teach you, specifically.

    It just strikes me as a bit dismissive when I hear people say things like "this is just flat out terrible advice" when it doesn't really seem fair to say so.


    My own worst advice: what comes to mind is that I heard someone say "write what you don't know," not as in "learn more" or "write about things that haven't literally happened to you," but fully intended as "just make stuff up, make everything up, just imagine what the world is like." By my own principle, there's probably someone that that helps, but I don't like the attitude that writing = bullshitting.
     
  21. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    Ahmahgawd this. This is me. Thank you for putting this into words. Glad to know I'm not the only one out there (not that I doubted it).

    All in all, @truthbeckons, a well thought out discussion. I think most of us would agree with you. I think the problem is that people take one piece of advice and label it 'great,' 'terrible' or anything in between, without any mind to the fact that one piece of advice can impact ten different writers in ten different ways. These things are way too grey to be discussed with black and white opinions.

    Also, welcome to WF! :)
     
  22. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    That's the problem with advice - it's nearly always good advice for one person and terrible advice for the next. That's why it should be presented as "What works for me is..." rather than "The correct way to write is..."

    I try to understand a writer's goals before I give them advice, too.

    I was just reminded of one danger of the 'Write what you know' advice: the number of books featuring characters who are aspiring or successful novelists. I can't help but give a massive eye roll whenever I see it.
     
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  23. EstherMayRose

    EstherMayRose Senior Member

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    I read an article which started with a story about a guy taking "write what you know" much too literally and telling some school kids that they couldn't write about war because they'd never been in combat. No, their stories had to be about their school, their hobbies, their friends. I agree with truthbeckons, "know what you write" is a better phrasing. If it's a topic you're interested in, you've probably done research anyway.
     
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  24. Orihalcon

    Orihalcon Senior Member

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  25. big soft moose

    big soft moose All killer, no filler. Contributor Community Volunteer

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    some people are idiots - if you follow that logic no one could ever write sci fi or fantasy.

    That said i wouildnt necessarily encourage kids (in the first world anyway) to write about war - not because they've never been in combat but because they don't have the emotional maturity or life experience to imagine whatit might be like ... kids war stories tend to follow the "the good guys shot the bad guys and won the war and it was wonderful" mold which isnt really worth reading unless you are doing propoganda.
     
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